In late 1875, the United States government attempted to obtain the Black Hills of South Dakota from the Sioux, by buying them, after reneging on an 1868 treaty that had designated the area as Indian territory, under conditions that essentially precluded whites from ever getting their hands on it. But gold was discovered a few years later, and both miners and the military began breaking the law by trespassing into the region. This lead directly to the Battle of The Little Bighorn, one of the most well known events in American history, in which Native Americans mercilessly exacted upon the United States Army some degree of revenge for the abuse, lies, thievery and aggression dealt to them over a very long time. Dee Brown summarizes the basic story in his now classic book, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee:
From the Missouri River on the east to the Bighorn country on the west, all the nations of the Sioux and many of their Cheyenne and Arapaho friends had gathered there [on the White River]–more than twenty thousand Indians. Few of them had ever seen a copy of the treaty of 1868, but a goodly number knew the meaning of a certain clause in that sacred document: “No treaty for the cession of any part of the reservation herein described…shall be of any validity or force…unless executed and signed by at least three fourths of all the adult male Indians, occupying or interested in the same.” Even if the commissioners had been able to intimidate or buy off every chief present, they could not have obtained more than a few dozen signatures from those thousands of angry, well-armed warriors who were determined to keep every pinch of dust and blade of grass within their territory…
During three days of speech making, the chiefs made it quite clear to the Great Father’s representatives that the Black Hills could not be bought cheaply if at any price. Spotted Tail finally grew impatient with the commissioners and asked them to submit a definite proposal in writing. The offer was four hundred thousand dollars for the mineral rights; or if the Sioux wished to sell the hills outright the price would be six million dollars… (This was a markdown price indeed, considering that one Black Hills mine alone yielded more than five hundred million dollars in gold).
Red Cloud did not even appear for the final meeting, letting Spotted Tail speak for all the Sioux. Spotted Tail rejected both offers, firmly. The Black Hills were not for lease or for sale. The commissioners packed up, returned to Washington, reported their failure to persuade the Sioux to relinquish the Black Hills, and recommended that Congress disregard the wishes of the Indians and appropriate a sum fixed “as a fair equivalent of the value of the hills.” This forced purchase of the Black Hills should be “presented to the Indians as a finality”
Thus was set in motion a chain of actions which would bring the greatest defeat ever suffered by the United States Army in its wars with the Indians, and ultimately would destroy forever the freedom of the northern Plains Indians.
Dee Brown, Bury my Heart at Wounded Knee pp 280-284
Image: Sitting Bull